FEBRUARY 22 — They were six young lads. They were six Malaysian Indians, by appearance. To quite a few Malaysians, they were Malaysian Indians by behaviour.

The comment from one viewer of the TikTok video was quite telling, “There goes the chance for (us) Indians to rent homestays!”

There are assumptions and context missing, needed to complete the narrative and as such explain the dismay.


In this 20-second video, six young men clad only in their shorts rev their motorcycles up to background Tamil music. Festive, even if loud.

The thing which irks viewers is they had somehow brought their motorcycles poolside of what seems like a private bathing venue, part of a home.

They were, in summary, creating a ruckus for no discernible purpose or benefit.


Of course, if in reality one of the boys or his parents owns the property then it does not matter what they put beside the water or in the water. The noise is bearable in daytime, as was the case here. It stays purely a private affair.

However, the Malaysian way to break down the incident is to surmise these boys and perhaps more with them rented a homestay with a pool. They duly misbehaved. To many Malaysians who are not ethnic Indians, seeing through their Malaysian lens, here’s confirmation Indians are poor custodians of premises. To most Malaysian Indians, they are disappointed even if not surprised. The boys have proven correct the worst assumptions about Malaysian Indians, reducing the community’s social credit score.

How much of the above are you inclined to believe in?

Hold on to that opinion and I’ll circle back to it.

A fortnight ago at the local pharmacy. I wanted to buy some pills. The sales clerk, she asked if I was sure about the purchase as they are expensive. How it came across to me — I admit it is open to interpretation, completely — was, “Sir, can you afford this?”

As I said, how it came across to me.

A bit like the umpteenth time I’ve sat at a restaurant, and the server prefers to bill and collect payment on every order I make, while not doing the same for other patrons.

The difference being I look decidedly Malaysian Indian, and the others do not. My friend Tubs would say that’s just paranoia. Probably those with privileges are regulars.


But these instances happen far too often to be dismissed offhand.

From those water boys, to my customer experiences, there is a certain thread. The thread is worth talking about.

Do Malaysians generally believe their ethnic Indian countrymen are credit risks or poor carers of assets? It’s a fair enough question.

The writer hopes decent Malaysians are willing to talk about this issue, and they are welcome to their own conclusions.  — Picture by Firdaus Latif
The writer hopes decent Malaysians are willing to talk about this issue, and they are welcome to their own conclusions. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

No room at the inn, tonight and forever

There is one issue with greater consensus, the difficulty for Indians to rent residential units.

The anecdotal accounts overwhelm. Of Indians refused rental contracts on the account of their race.

I cannot confirm all the stories but I’ve personally encountered rejections due to how my name reads.

The one time the property agent did not want to answer my messages requesting a visit or the other one who did message me back and said the owner prefers not to rent to Indians. Let’s say I never had a property agent chase me up to get my business.

For the unit I do live in presently, the owner wanted documentary evidence that I was in fact gainfully employed despite being vouched for by another resident. Funny, since it’s a cheapish rental in a modest and unassuming location.

But I was Indian and my eventual landlady had concerns.

Oh, did I say the building has low occupancy? On my floor of eight available units, only four are taken. The four parking floors peak at a third filled up.

So, low demand property and prospective tenant already backed by another resident, but still the landlady hesitated.

I offered to pay the security deposit and half a year of rent upfront. She said OK. Six months later she asked if I could save her the bother and pay one more half year.

Imaginary fears or fears which prevent imaginations

It would be easy to reply or rebut my experiences.

That particular landlord was finicky, pharmacy clerk informs so complaints are avoided, and so on and so forth.

From my side, this is not a jab at other Malaysians, a free go at any particular race.

There is no solution to — alleged — victimisation by victimising others.

Let’s go back to those motorcycle boys.

Young men, when they can still wear clothes from their adolescence, tend to do silly things when in a group.

If attitudes towards communities are formed based on the actions of their young boys, then no community fares well in the assessment.

But the quick inferences made by many, and the nature of the conversations about the incident shows how prejudices are deeply embedded and colour the way things are talked about.

People have already chucked people into templates based on race and talk about incidents with various assumptions set in stone in their minds.

Viewers were not using the video to further discussions about the issue, they used it to confirm their broader summary of a race, to confirm their longstanding prejudice of the race. When oversimplifications are rampant then bigotry reigns. And when bigotry goes unchecked, it is then traded as fact rather than tyranny.

Which is how we end up with enough street whispers and cultural gossip to assume freely without guilt that persons from one race are by default incapable of being good tenants.

And those tainted with the label have no reasonable recourse to correct the perception, they have to almost accept it and prove that they are the exception.

That they are not like the average Indian. That they deserve social credit. It is a horrible thing to do to a person, to commit to a position which reduces them, and to seek salvation in proving they are less Indian and more something else, something beneficial.

To show that if I had a senior position in a small NGO which allows me a title, then I am more worthy as a person, less like the average Malaysian Indian, and therefore deserve to rent a residential unit.

This column is not to offer answers but to raise questions. I hope decent Malaysians are willing to talk about it, and they are welcome to their own conclusions. The very idea they do talk about how the constant labelling of Indians in this country leads to them constantly asking whether life is about advancing or presenting oneself as less Indian is healthy or not, is a win.

The pharmacy clerk’s question “Can you afford” to me inadvertently ended up in my poor mind as “Are you worthy since you are Indian?”

I am a Malaysian Indian, but I am also sick and tired of being a thing rather than myself. Or having to disassociate myself from typical Indian behaviour in order to be kosher.

So, let’s talk.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.